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The Wars of the Roses (1995)

by Alison Weir

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1,734317,674 (3.85)43
Reconstructs the conflict between the royal Houses of Lancaster and York, bringing to life both the war and the historic figures who fought it.

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Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses. Ballantine, 1996.
Schadenfreude. If you love to think about other people suffering, 15th-century English politics is for you. Though the nursery rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York” is about an 18th-century guy, it perfectly well describes the feeling one gets from reading Alison Weir’s The Wars of the Roses, about the 15th-century battles between the York and Lancaster clans:
Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
When they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.
What the song misses is the amount of butchery involved and the youth of many of the players, many of whom were in their mid-teens when they first went to war or ordered an execution. Henry VI was 23 when her married his 15-year-old princess bride, Margaret of Anjou. Edward was a battle-scarred veteran of 19 when he first deposed Henry. None of them died of old age. Not all of them were sane. Reading about the century’s numberless plots, counterplots, betrayals, and assassinations, I begin to understand why my sophomore course in English history passed it over as quickly as possible to get to the simpler problems of Henry VIII and his simpler dynastic issues. (OK, that is snark, but still.) The politics of the 15th are bafflingly complex, and reliable information about them hard to come by. Almost all the news of the period was fake. The common people of England and many of its leaders were usually wrong about who did what to whom and why in their own time. Weir’s greatest expertise is in women’s history, and she makes clear that Margaret and Elizabeth, the wives of Henry VI and Edward IV were often more competent and just as ruthless as their husbands. Margaret was married eight years before giving birth to a son, who would die in battle (or shortly thereafter) at 17. Elizabeth had a lot of children, but unfortunately for her dynastic line, most of them were girls. One does wonder how the course of history might have changed if the genetic roulette had played out differently. ( )
  Tom-e | Mar 13, 2021 |
I've always been a bit intimidated when it came to the War of the Roses, not knowing where to begin or who to trust in the telling of that series of stories. I needn't have had any fear. Alison Weir deftly navigates those often confusing waters and presents us with a clear case of facts. From the initial skirmishes to when the war reached its crescendo during the reign of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.

One of the books greatest strengths is the telling of the human stories of the war. We learn about the Lancasters, the Yorks, and the early Tudors. The stories of Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou, Edward IV, Elizabeth Wydeville, Henry V, and Katherine of Valois and more are faithfully recounted and provide us with a human face to the battles.

The book can be a bit heavy handed in the recounting of the battles themselves, but it's very worth it to press on. Very good reading! ( )
  briandrewz | Aug 17, 2020 |
All right. First of all, no amount of quick re-telling can ever do actual history any justice, but suffice to say, The War of the Roses was a ROYAL MESS.

Literally. You can trace its roots back to Richard II when Henry IV deposed him, setting up the later battles between York and Lancaster, but this is somewhat disingenuous. People loved Hal, later to become King Henry V, and they were all amazed at how much of France he had won for England, capping off a truly heroic entry and the close end of the Hundred Years War.

And then he died. Of the flux. Horribly. Leaving another kid to be the king, just like Richard II. Only this time, Henry VI was set up on his mother's side to madness, a common malady of kings, and that, combined with horribly overbearing uncles and "helpers" to the throne, a power struggle begins, pulling this way and that and nobody really blames the poor king when the conflicts break out. Again, and again, and again. Then somewhere down the line, after Margaret of Anjou, his wife, is pregnant, Henry VI has a mental breakdown and she takes over, impressively, but not flawlessly. Conflicts abound. Edward IV is crowned king with the help of Warwick even though Henry VI is still kicking, and even though it begins well, Warwick and Edward start baring fangs at each other and yet MORE war happens. Which is a shame. I kinda liked both Warwick and Edward. Both were pretty much the heroes that stopped all the previous stupid conflicts that was dragging England through the mud.

And then, after some really great women power between a few queens including Margaret, the impossible eventually happens. Peace.

Well, until Richard III kills all the Heirs and crowns himself king until Henry VII smites him down, but that's all ancient history, right? Right?

Well even though I spelled this out in horribly simplistic terms, do NOT assume that this book is anything simple. Tons of names, battles, and character studies of kings and notables are extant. This is pretty damn exhaustive. And, I might say, exhausting.

I recommend other works if you are new to the 1455-1485 period in England. It's bloody and sad and horrific and sad. But if you are familiar with the broad strokes, then there are much worse reference points for you. I got a lot out of it, but since I'm not an expert in the field, what I do understand is dwarfed by all the little things that passed me by.

One thing I can say is that my knowledge has increased quite a bit, and isn't that what we really look for in a good History? It's not extremely focused, but it gives us some background before Henry VI loses France and sparks the real beginning of the War. The rest is pretty comprehensive to my layman's eye, though, and I'm satisfied even if even I found it a bit dry.

And now, I'm set to run through all the Shakespearian Histories for this time! :) Yay! (Well, for a second time, anyway. :) There's nothing like a bit of deep immersion to bring out the inner geek. :)

Who knows, I think I'll run through the rest of the Histories, too, for good measure and variety. :) lol ( )
1 vote bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
The Wars of the Roses is such a fascinating time, modern toys of warfare had yet to intrude on men sealed like aluminum cans waving weapons and galloping over all the poor people with quarterstaves - and the INTRIGUE! It was all very romantic and many a novelist has become "inspired" by these turbulent years for their fiction.

Alison Weir is more of a popular historian, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - her research appears to be top-notch, and her reading broad and thorough. I simply find myself at the point where the lack of footnotes or any sort of direct references to her sources frustrating. I want to know where she found the information she's giving about the battles, and what men shouted at each other - I want to be assured that she isn't simply taking artistic license.

Anyhow, this is good, fairly concise work on the feud between York and Lancaster, ending with the ascension of the Tudors. I recommend it to any curious mind in high school or someone who doesn't want to slog through the minutiae of someone's research. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Very informative and well-written account of the period, certainly filled in some gaps in my knowledge! On the whole i enjoyed listening to this in my car - the audiobook experience was a winner! Some people found the narrator's tendency to "do the voices" a bit wearing but personally I liked it.

The only thing that did irritate slighlty was the "translation" of money e.g. "The fireplace cost £32, 10s and 6d (that's £32 and 52 and a half pence)"! If you have to do price translations it would be a lot more useful to explain the value of the money e.g. "£32, 10s and 6d, which would have paid an average wage for a bricklayer for 7 months" or something. Anyway, that's my only whinge and it's a pretty trivial one... ( )
  AriadneAranea | Aug 7, 2018 |
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These matters be kings' games, as it were stage plays, and for the more part played upon scaffolds.
—Sir Thomas More
What about the getting of the garland, keeping it, losing and winning it again, it hath cost more English blood than twice the winning of France.

—William Shakespeare, King Richard III
This book is dedicated to
a much-loved uncle,
Rankin Lorimer Weir,
in commemoration of his ninetieth birthday.

It is also dedicated
in loving memory of
his beloved wife
Dorothy Weir.

And also to
my godson
David Jonathan Marston
on the occasion of his twenty-first birthday.
First words
Introduction: When I was working on my last book, The Princes in the Tower, I was aware that in some respects i was telling only half a story.
In 1466 a Bohemian nobleman, Gabriel Tetzel, visited England and described it as 'a little, sea-girt garden'.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Reconstructs the conflict between the royal Houses of Lancaster and York, bringing to life both the war and the historic figures who fought it.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary
Lancaster v York –
real-life, fifteenth-century
tense soap opera.
The king is mad, there's
misrule, plotting, treachery.
Dull history? No.

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